I’ve taught several versions of this course before, and until now my focus has always been relentlessly practical. As a writer myself, I have been struck by how much of the work I do now takes place onscreen rather than on the page, and I am interested in exploring how this shift has affected the ways we write. What’s different about writing for the screen rather than the page? What new possibilities of expression open up? What new constraints emerge?

I  plan to continue that practical focus this semester. But the events of the past year have convinced me that a course like this needs a critical component as well. We have a president who prefers to use Twitter rather than the press to communicate with the public, and many of the recent protests against his policies have been themselves planned and promulgated on social media. Added to that is the feeling of many of us that the internet more and more shapes both our understanding of the news and our relationships with other people. So it it strikes me as urgent not only to learn how to write effectively in a digital world, but also to develop a broad understanding of the screen culture we all now inhabit. I have thus tried to design this course to have not simply a practical but a critical edge.

A Hermes 2000 portable manual typewriter of the sort that William Gibson used to write “Neuromancer”, a 1984 novel in which he invented the idea of cyberspace.

I think the new title of the course, Digital Rhetorics, nicely catches this double-aim. (It used to be called Writing the New Media.) Because rhetoric is itself a term that has a double-meaning, since it can be used to describe both rules for what makes a piece of writing good and rules for how to produce good writing. That is, sometimes rhetoricians analyze the structure of texts, other times they offer advice to writers. Analysis and production. In this course we will try to do both—to reflect on the possibilities and perils of our digital culture, and to figure out how to contribute in positive ways to it.

We should also have some fun. Together we’ll read, watch, listen to, and talk about an imaginative and eclectic set of texts. And I’ll ask you to experiment in your own writing through mixing words with images, video, audio, and hyperlinks. At the end of this course, then, you should feel that you’ve taken part of some interesting conversations about our current culture, and that you’ve produced some new and creative pieces of writing. Good luck! I look forward to working with you!